Many years had passed since days spent on that baseball diamond in our little town.
Here we were together again. We represented different teams from different times but shared the camaraderie of a common background.
Some lived close by, but several had traveled from different directions to celebrate a friend's life.
Although it was a sad occasion, memories abounded, and the feeling of warmth among us was beyond description.
The friend and his family were part of that network of friendships intricately woven together from childhood that eventually became a beautiful tapestry of life.
As I looked around, I noticed we looked more respectful than we did back then on that ball field with our hair flying in the wind and a uniform of dusty jeans and dirty tennis shoes.
Where we played wasn't exactly a "Field of Dreams," but it was a dream fulfilled for a group of young people who loved to play ball.
What a backbreaking job making that baseball diamond! Dedicated dads and enthused teenagers worked together scraping grass and weeds from a large meadow and marking bases with sand-filled sacks. Actually, it looked quite professional.
When each of us became old enough to join the gang, we couldn't have been happier if it were Wrigley Field.
From March through October, as soon as we ate supper -- we called it supper back then -- we scurried out the door for the big game not wanting to be late when teams were chosen.
The players, all ages and sizes, waited anxiously while the two captains took turns choosing their team. Older kids and better players were chosen first.
Then came the little ones. They were pacified and chosen but put in the field; actually past the field and into the cow pasture.
They fought chiggers and ran until their legs ached trying to catch a ball that they usually fumbled while stubbing fingers. They didn't care. They were part of the team.
There were no lights on our dream field in Vicksburg, but we didn't call it an evening until it was pitch black, and the ball could smack our face before we saw it.
Our evening couldn't end until we bombarded the corner store for a five-cent coke or ice cream while we discussed -- or argued -- the game.
As years went by, older kids left for college or careers, and another age group came along as captains and ace players.
Those who suffered from aching legs and bruised fingers in the cow pasture were finally chosen first. They had paid their dues and were now seasoned athletes -- or so they thought.
Sadly, players dwindled and weeds slowly crept over the field. On warm summer evenings, the only activity was the glow of hovering fireflies keeping company with the clucking Katydids.
But if you stood and listened closely, echoes of the past resonated across the field: "You're out!" "Watch out! She throws her bat." "Run! You can make it."
We could never remember a particular game or who won or lost, but we all scored with friendships.
And as we sat there celebrating our friend's life, we remembered that as a young, blonde sailor freshly out of the Navy he visited our ball field to give pointers on the game.
I'm not sure if he had his eye on the ball or on a pretty teenage player who could hit the ball to the cow pasture and run like a gazelle.
They had been married more than 60 years.